The Practical Side of Standard One

STANDARD #1.  Leadership

Administrators and the faculty must personally lead and be involved in creating and sustaining values, business program directions, performance expectations, student focus, and a leadership system that promotes performance excellence.  These values and expectations must be integrated into the business program’s leadership system; and the business programs must continuously learn, improve, and address societal responsibilities and community involvement.

When one reads the above standard, two words leap off the page: values and expectations.  One cannot possibility know, understand, promote, and sustain values and expectations without significant interaction with two key stakeholders, arguably the two most significant stakeholders for the day-to-day operation of the business unit.  First consider these general guidelines before launching into specifics regarding student and faculty interaction to explore, instill and sustain values; additionally, one should determine the expectations of the business unit and how those expectations will be realized.

There are some baseline assumptions or requirements.  For example, the cliché of “have an open door” seems hardly adequate, well because it is a cliché; however, you simply will not hear from your stakeholders without an open door.  Clearly, you must protect your time but be as available for requests from students and faculty to meet with you.  The environment must be conducive to conversation; students aren’t likely to talk to you if you make it difficult, nor will faculty.  Another baseline assumption, wipe the frown off your face and fake it until you can make it!  Several years ago authors Minirith and Meyer wrote Happiness is a Choice; therefore, if happiness is a choice, so is being accepting of students and professors.  Appear inviting and friendly until you really are inviting and friendly!  An additional baseline requirement is, try not to show favoritism.  I say “try” because we all have our favorites—those who get the job done with a positive attitude will rise to the top; however, try not to let this impact your decision making and be fair.  A strong corollary, treat everyone with respect.

If you want feedback and input, you will need to create a hospitable environment.  Allow students and faculty to share negative comments without fear of retribution.  It is insincere and ineffective leadership not to allow honesty just so you aren’t offended.  You, the leader, must invite all honest input from these two immediate stakeholders.  If they fear retribution for providing you honest feedback that happens to include constructive criticism, you will miss out on some of the most valuable information   needed for improvement.

So, remember:

  • Open door policy
  • Be inviting and friendly
  • Avoid favoritism
  • Treat everyone with respect
  • Create a hospitable environment
  • Allow negative feedback as well as positive

While I don’t accept the paradigm that students are our customers, I do accept that they are an important part of the multidimensional aspect of the “academic customer.”  Let’s look specifically at the relationship of Standard #1 to students. Students, the primary consumer of academic knowledge in the classroom experience, must have input.  Schools who take teaching and learning seriously will ask students for feedback regarding a faculty member’s performance. In our environment, this collected input comes via a standardized form with open-ended question included.

The quantitative scores, while valuable, will yield less useful information than will open-ended questions allowing students to verbalize and flesh out the context of the quantitative scores. If the college or university culture permits following a classroom observation, the observer could request the faculty member leave the room and ask students if the day’s lecture was typical. Many times students report that the particular observation was a “show” and plainly prepped for the occasion; moreover, in one case, students indicated the lecture was rehearsed the previous class to prepare for the official observation. A word of caution: interpret results loosely until there is a triangulation of data or one observes a pattern. Not allowed in some environments, unannounced observations may provide data closer to actual performance than announced observations.

As a firm believer in student feedback, the leader of the business unit might solicit informal student input through intentional and guided conversations with students. You might call these Chat with the Chair or Donuts with the Dean. In my case, I invite graduating seniors with the premise that at the end of their academic career their information is more complete, and their assessment of the business program more accurate. They are encouraged to discuss anything relevant to the School of Business.  I take notes but do not record who is in attendance to protect their anonymity.  Certainly I trust them to tell the truth and they trust me not to share with their professors unflattering details of their classroom, advising, or general performance as a representative of the School of Business. Frankly, the most valuable information I receive comes through these conversations; moreover, this data has initiated more improvements in our program than any other type of assessment.

Faculty, the most valuable resource in any business program, is a wealth of information.  Following the same guidelines as above, it is important that you provide multiple opportunities for faculty input. While I have an open door policy and faculty do stop by, there are a number of official and unofficial meetings throughout the semester.  As a School of Business we meet once per month, but the Associate Dean and I meet with the various discipline leaders each week. This provides ample input as described in Standard #1; additionally, there are beginning of semester meetings of three to four hours. These meetings provide the opportunity for input and ensure that everyone understands the School of Business objectives; furthermore, the meetings afford time to set and assess student performance and faculty performance. However creating and sustaining values related to the business unit takes time. In our School of Business, we take time away from campus, about a day and a half, to discuss such philosophical topics, with frequent reinforcement in scheduled meetings. Additionally, we formalize this a bit more and individual faculty goals are aligned with our values and expectations as a School of Business.

Other face-to-face meetings with faculty to discuss personal performance, student performance, values, and expectations occur formally three times per year. In the fall, faculty meet with me to establish professional goals during a meeting dubbed the Professional Activities Contract meeting. Related to their professional obligations, goals could focus on teaching performance, quality of advising, values integration in the classroom, or research. A mid-year meeting occurs to evaluate performance toward accomplishing the goals and resetting goals if necessary. At the end of the academic year, a Professional Activities Report, completed by the professor, identifies performance toward accomplishing preset goals. This represents the final meeting of the year between the professor and myself. The information from that meeting helps determine goals for the subsequent year.

The School of Business leadership convenes to build the strategic plan and includes information from students and faculty as a significant source to shape the strategic plan.  Values, expectations, and program objectives must be the foundation of the strategic plan.  When the leadership and faculty convene, the plan is revised with this input in mind.  ACBSP is committed to excellence, thus the business unit’s leadership must take input from students and faculty into consideration to make program improvements.  When that happens Standard #1 then comes full circle.

Have questions or comments? Send them to dthompson@leeuniversity.edu.

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